Sadiq Khan asks Black Lives Matter protesters to ‘stay at home’ over weekend amid fears of Covid spread and far-right violence

Sadiq Khan asks Black Lives Matter protesters to ‘stay at home’ over weekend amid fears of Covid spread and far-right violence

Sadiq Khan has urged supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement not to take part in protests in Central London over the coming weekend, saying he is “extremely concerned” that such gatherings “risk spreading Covid-19” and “could lead to disorder, vandalism and violence” due to “extreme far right groups who advocate hatred and division” are planning counter protests.

Though stressing his support for “the millions of people around the world who are saying loud and clear that Black Lives Matter” he says Londoners should “be in no doubt” that the counter protests aim to “provoke violence” and “hijack this important issue” meaning “the risk of disorder is high”. The Mayor states that “staying home and ignoring them is the best response this weekend”.

Khan also warns that “any violence or criminal damage from anyone is always unacceptable” and won’t be tolerated and that the Met is “working on a robust policing plan to keep Londoners safe and to prevent disorder”. He adds that “our police officers are under growing pressure and strain”, with 62 having been injured policing protests during the past week.

“Key statues and monuments” are to be “covered and protected” including the Cenotaph and statues of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela.

Conservative London Assembly Group leader Susan Hall has criticised Khan, saying “It’s a shame you didn’t send a strong message for people NOT to go out and demonstrate two weeks ago”.

It is reported today that justice secretary Robert Buckland has told magistrates to extend their opening hours and fast-track cases related to protests in what is described as “an approach modelled on the response to the London riots of 2011”.

Anti-racism protests in London last weekend were overwhelmingly peaceful, but clashes near Downing Street resulted in injuries to 27 Met officers. Separately, an attack on two police officers in Hackney earlier this week that was filmed by a bystander has underlined concerns about the potential for street disorder in the summer months.

Yesterday, Labour London Assembly Member Unmesh Desai, who chairs the Assembly’s police and crime committee, published an open letter calling on all of London’s professional football clubs to “condemn the plans of far-right hooligan groups to disrupt Black Lives Matter protests”, including one which operates under the name Democratic Football Lads Alliance.  He has thanked Spurs, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers for “positive responses”.

The Mayor’s appeal to Black Lives Matter supporters follows his announcement on Tuesday of a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to “focus on increasing representation among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, woman, the LGBTQ+ community and disability groups” in statues, memorials and street and place names.

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